Calling All Public Historians
Yesterday’s post about my good friend John Hennessy left me wondering what, if anything, has taken place or is being planned in museums, historical societies and other institutions to help their communities make sense of the relevant history behind our ongoing and very emotional discussion about Civil War memory.
It’s an opportune moment for public historians, who focus on the Civil War Era and the history of race relations. Folks who have never thought about the American Civil War are giving it a good deal of thought. No doubt, some of that reflection is based on bad history.
I can only imagine the many land mines that historical institutions will face when dealing with some of these questions, especially in communities that are actively dealing with questions concerning flags, monuments, etc., but does anyone not believe that they have a responsibility to do so? Public programs and educational outreach can go a long way to help those truly interested in better understanding this complex intersection of history and memory. High on my list is how we help students and their teachers think more critically about these issues?
The National Park Service, state historical societies and museums devoted to the Civil War should be all over this.
Perhaps programs like the one John Hennessy offered on Friday evening have already taken place. If so, I would love to hear more. It is also possible that plans are in the works to deal with various aspects of this issue. Again, please share so we can spread the word.
It may not be a stretch to suggest that more Americans are now thinking about the legacy of the Civil War than did during the entire sesquicentennial. This may turn out to be a protracted debate and it may not come around again. To all of my friends in public history, get out there and do what you are trained to do.